Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu

They say that the third time's the charm, and that is SO true with Mr. Monk and the Bird Flu. I love the Monk TV series, and I really loved this novel. I am so pleased that the stars have aligned properly and the planets have smiled on us.

San Francisco is in a tough situation. First, a wild sneaker-loving killer is on the loose, killing women and stealing just one shoe. Second, a well off astrologer is slain followed by other random people. It's a history-making murder wave. To make things worse, because of stalled budget talks, almost all of the cops have walked out - including Captain Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Disher. The Mayor enlists Monk's help to come in as temporary captain. Although Natalie thinks this would be very disloyal of Monk, he leaps at the chance to get his badge back.

The characters are just *brilliant* - where the first two books had situations where characters acted very contrary to their TV established personae, Blue Flu sounds all of the right notes. Natalie is a single mom who tries her best to be a good role model, to help her daughter be happy, and to support Mr. Monk's dreams even when they clash with her own personal guidelines. She has her doubts, but tries to rise above them and to do the right thing. I was so thrilled that the "shallowness" of the previous two books that had been imposed on Natalie was absent here.

I'm not saying Natalie is a Perfect Soul - but she is wonderfully, humanly IMperfect. The Captain asks her out for coffee and Natalie blunders into an all too common verbal situation, one most women have found themselves in. She worries about not having a "purpose" in life - but realizes she is quite happy with what she has ended up doing.

All of the characters are nicely multi-faceted. Monk really wants to get his badge back, and doesn't give much thought to how his actions will affect his loyal best friends. There's some nice character growth for him as he learns to deal with "underlings" and also to become more appreciative of his job as a detective. Captain Stottlemeyer is both more morose - now he's lost his wife AND his job - and also more insightful. He gets a chance to really talk, to explain his motivations, and to give some very wise advice to Monk. He makes an important point - that Disher is often looked down on as the local clown, but that he has his own form of insight that is very helpful in cases. That every one of us has our talents and, if used wisely, those talents can be incredibly helpful to the group as a whole.

Complementing all of these great main character portrayals is a brilliant collection of three new characters - other 'scabs' brought across the picket lines to work with Monk in the office. Each of these characters is flawed, and each has his or her own assistant. You have the elderly senile cop, the paranoid alien-conspiracist cop and the shoot-em-quick cop. Monk understands what it's like to be cast out and finds ways for each of these misfits to shine in their new duties. Perhaps more importantly, Natalie becomes friends with all of the assistants and realizes how valuable her own role in this is.

With all of the dead bodies scattered through the book, and more dropping dead with every new chapter, it's not a work where the endings are telegraphed. There are clues there, but it's challenging to figure out which clues go with which murders to connect them together. So for people who like to "outguess the detective", they'll find this one to be a test of skill. Really, though, this novel isn't about a straight A-to-B-meant-C storyline. It's about the characters that populate Monk's world, and how they influence each other to grow and change. I highly recommend this book, and look forward to the sequels.

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